Today I've turned my blog over to Sandy Humphrey. She makes us feel what it is like to have our characters as part of the family.
I’ve been working on a young adult novel that takes place at a summer camp for girls with emotional problems in northern Minnesota, and I find it more than a little disconcerting that some of my characters have recently moved in with me.
This morning I found the camp director, Mrs. A, at my breakfast table shoveling sugar into her herbal tea, and last night I found her rummaging through my fridge, looking for avocados for her guacamole dip.
And it’s not just Mrs. A who has moved in. Leslie (my Protagonist) and some of her camper friends are also showing up unexpectedly. I found Trisha (a young black girl who longs to have her own garden amidst the chaos of the inner city) wandering around my backyard last week. She wasn’t being a nuisance or anything. She was just out there smelling the flowers.
Then there’s anorexic Jennifer. She hasn’t actually moved in yet, but I see her in some of the young girls I mentor at our church. They talk about their control issues at home and how food is the only thing in their lives that they feel they have any control over. Jennifer doesn’t say anything at these meetings, she just nods in agreement.
And, of course, there’s Rachel, “the cutter.” There were so many Rachels at the state mental hospital who insisted that they had to cut “to feel better.” They shared with me how they could deal more easily with their physical pain than with their psychological pain, and how the physical pain gave them a temporary respite from their psychological pain.
I’ve even run into Cynthia Winston, the villain of the piece, right in my own bathroom—-usurping the bathroom mirror while she apples her makeup. Actually, Cynthia has pretty much taken over all my mirrors. She’s always there, preening and giving me her little Mona Lisa half-smile.
Although I have never invited any of my characters to move into my home and take over so much of my life, I find I’m becoming used to having them around. And I might even miss them if they were to move out.
I think what I’ve concluded from all this is that to make our characters real to our readers—-characters whom they really care about-—we must care about them first. They must be so real to us that we see them everywhere we go and in everything we do, and sometimes we may even find them in the most unexpected places!
Sandra McLeod Humphrey is a retired clinical psychologist, a character education consultant, and an award-winning author of eight middle-grade and young adult books. She's also the recipient of the National Character Education Center's Award for Exemplary Leadership in Ethics Education (2000) and the 2005 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature.
You can learn more about her books by visiting her Web site at www.kidscandoit.com and her blog at www.kidscandoit.com/blog/
Sandra, I really enjoyed how you brought your characters in and see them everywhere. It's so nice to know I'm not the only one this happens to! ;)ReplyDelete
"Living" with your characters makes it a lot more fun, doesn't it? With the exception of Cynthia, that is! Frankly, I'll be glad when she's outta here! Thanks so much for dropping by!Delete
Thanks for this post! The characters in my children's books are totally real and I meet them all the time. Now I can quote their lines with a smile!ReplyDelete
I've got to read your books and meet your characters--I bet they're wonderful! Thanks so much for dropping by!Delete
This is right on the mark. If we are not attached to our characters, how can we expect our readers to be? Just in reading this short piece about your characters, I find myself wanting to get to know them. When I started my family, I gave up writing. I've just started back after 20 years. I knew I didn't have room for both. The book sounds like it is going to be more of a real-life experience than fiction. Great post.ReplyDelete
You're so right, Linnea, if we don't care about our characters, no one else will! Thanks so much for dropping by!Delete
Sandra I think I would love to be invited to visit when your characters are around. I would enjoy talking to and listening to their stories. I think they would fit into my life quite nicely.ReplyDelete
I think they would love to met you too! Trisha can go on and on about how she's going to have her own garden "with real flowers" some day and Mrs. A will totally enthrall you with her somewhat bizarre but definitely intriguing recipes. Rachel hides behind her long black hair and is almost mute while you'll find yourself scanning's Jennifer's body and concluding that if she were any skinner, she'd be an X-Ray. Consider yourself invited to drop by and hang out with my characters any time you're in the neighborhood!Delete
Thank you Sandra for such an informative post. I too feel my characters but sometimes they take over and I have no choice but to give in until they are ready to leave on vacation.ReplyDelete
What a great idea B! I think I'll suggest that Cynthia leave Camp Weeping Willow and head out for a real vacation like maybe some place a zillion miles away from the rest of us. On second thought, I think I'm stuck with her because she adds so much tension and drama to the story and has such an interesting (and unexpected) backstory herself! Thanks for inviting all of us, we're having a great time. Just be sure when we leave that Mrs. A doesn't stay behind and take over your kitchen!Delete
What great characters. How could you not get attached to them Cant wait ti read the book!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Peggy, I'm particularly drawn to Jennifer and her distorted self-image. It's just so difficult for us to both look in the same mirror and see her so differently! She is nothing but skin-and-bones (make that mostly bones) to me while she actually sees herself as "obscenely fat. "This is just so bizarre to me and all I can say is that I hope her story has a happy ending! Thanks so much for dropping by!Delete
Well I need a break from my kitchen duties, but let her know, I like my dinner at 5pm every night. LOL.ReplyDelete
Sandra, what a skillful way to bring your novel to life!ReplyDelete
I found myself captivated with the relationship you have with your characters.
Very well done!
Thanks so much, Gary, and I appreciate your dropping by!Delete
Oh yes, I love it when my characters are part of my life. It is important to think of them as part of your life in order to make them real. When my daughter worked at Disney each princess had her staff and nobody would ever suggest that the princesses were fairy tale characters. They were serious business and so should our characters be. I just wish Jake would show up in my bed or shower. - DelindaReplyDelete
Thanks for your Disney reference, Delinda, that makes me feel a bit guilty about Cynthia. I think I'll have to stop judging her and try relating to her instead of trying to avoid her. What a great experience for your daughter! Thanks so much for stopping by!Delete
Loved the post Sandy. It's kind of like an inside peek into your head! I have to admit that in just about every story I write characters have a tendency to resemble someone I know, and very often have a piece of me. I have one particular snappy comeback line I've been waiting for years to use but the occasion has never come up in real life. I think I'll have to work that into my next story. Thanks for the clever point of view.ReplyDelete
I know just what you mean, Lynn, I have some lines I really want to use, but I have to find the characters to say them. I met a totally idiosyncratic, one-of-a-kind woman in the optician's office a few weeks ago and I just have to use her somewhere--maybe I can even squeeze a bit of her into Mrs. A!Delete
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Actually, Mrs. A isn't much into routine. She's pretty much as scattered in her behavior as in her thinking and we won't even get into her appearance. Like when she wears her army boots and camouflage outfit on her nature walks with her campers. I don't think 5 P.M. dinners are going to work for her, so you're definitely going to want to be sure she doesn't get left behind!ReplyDelete
Sandra, its so refreshing that you speak about Ms.A as if she is in the house right next door, hopefully leaving those boots on the front porch before she comes in. I am so enjoying your guest blog and the funniest thing is; my name is Sandra also so it makes reading the posts even funnier when I initally think your commentators are speaking to me, versus you....but great minds and great names...ReplyDelete
I'm not even going to tell you where Mrs. A leaves her boots--it's not on the front porch! That's very cool that we share the same name and we're getting some really awesome comments!Delete
See, I have GOT to read this book! Your characters sounds almost as crazy as mine. This is the real reason I had to have guest bloggers, because Rebecca keeps walking in while I'm trying to write my blog. She is such an attention hog. I can't even use the bathroom without them barging in; without so much as a knock.Delete
I totally understand--that's how I feel about Cynthia. She's really so intrusive in her own subtle way and I'm really getting tired of those little Mona Lisa half-smiles she's always giving me. It's too bad I need her for the book because because she's really getting on my nerves!Delete
Good post, Sandra. Interesting characters.ReplyDelete
Tom Blubaugh, Author
Night of the Cossack
Thanks, Tom, they ARE interesting--some of them more so than others! Thanks for dropping by!Delete
This is so true, and probably one of the reasons why I haven't (and probably won't) write a fiction book. You really need to be engrossed in it and feel what the characters feel, etc. I respect all authors who write fiction, they are so incredibly talented and gifted!ReplyDelete
I know what you mean, Heather--that's how I feel about plotting! Some people plot so beautifully while I struggle to get enough conflict to keep my characters interesting. Thanks so much for dropping by!Delete
Great post Sandra! I love it when my characters move in with me. I am sure we will be entertained by some interesting characters in your future novels!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Darlene, if you have room, I would love to send Cynthia over to you for a while. Maybe just for a week or so while I clean my mirrors! Thanks for dropping by!Delete
Hi Sandra, I loved your post, and I cannot wait to read your book. I will check it out right now. I wish you all the very best. Mary FirminReplyDelete
Thanks, Mary, I'm still writing it, so it will be a while. Trisha is still wandering our backyard admiring the flowers and I'm thinking that as long as she's here, maybe I can put her to work helping me weed the gardens! Thanks for dropping by!Delete
I loved reading this post. I write more non-fiction than fiction, but when I was deep in the writing of a novel based on the life of the biblical character Hannah, I remember that everything I saw as I moved through my days appeared to me through Hannah's eyes. I guess maybe I moved in with Hannah instead of Hannah moving in with me! The same thing happens when I write short stories. When I work on non-fiction, everything that happens seems to be about my subject. I think we writers must inhabit our work in order for it to ring true.ReplyDelete
Katherine, I write more nonfiction than fiction too, but it's been rather refreshing hanging out with my fictional characters for a change. That must have been very cool moving in with Hannah--she's always been one of my favorite Biblical characters! Thanks so much for dropping by!Delete
Loved this post. What fun to have your characters living with you - although . . .I guess it depends on what they are like! Your book sounds like a fun read.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Shirley, it's actually a mixed read (or, in this case, a "mixed write"). Some of the characters' stories--especially Rachel's-- are pretty painful, but a touch of humor is needed to alleviate the pain. Thanks so much for stopping by!Delete
Cool post. :)MarciaReplyDelete
Thanks, Marcia, I appreciate your stopping by!Delete
What a neat way to become a part of your writing! I'm going to pass this along to Shannon (S. Moo), she'll love it -- all of her characters are based on real animals, some she lives with today!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Errin, and I appreciate your stopping by!Delete
Your last paragraph is something I'll take and incorporate into writing. Sometimes it seems easier than others. I suppose it's just like life. Some people you connect with more than others. We need to work harder at knowing the ones we don't connect with.ReplyDelete
You're so right, Sophie, and I'm going to keep that in mind as I meet all kinds of people in real life. Thanks so much for dropping by!ReplyDelete
Your book sounds like such a fun read--characters are so engaging. Congratulations on all your accomplisments! ~ PeggyReplyDelete